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Veiled Voting Debate Heats Up in Canada

By Nathalie Caron     Sep 10, 2007 in Politics
Canadian electoral agency Elections Canada, addressed this morning concerns raised by PM Harper and opposition parties regarding their decision to allow religiously veiled individuals to vote without showing their face.
Elections Canada publicised its decision to allow veiled voters to go to the polls last Thursday, in anticipation of three upcoming by-elections in the province of Quebec, on September 17.
In a news conference this morning, chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand explained that his agency’s decision was made in conformity with the legislation passed last spring. He added that if Parliament is not satisfied with the way Elections Canada is handling the new legislation, it should vote new, clearer guidelines.
“If Parliament has a problem with that, then the change in legislation will have to come from their end, and not from the independent government agency,” CTV quotes Mayrand as saying, this morning.
In a statement, the agency explained that while new legislation passed in late June (bill C-31) requires voters to show government issued identification, it allowed for some leeway for voters wearing face coverings for religious reasons.
"That was the law voted virtually unanimously by Parliament and I think that this decision goes in an entirely different direction," said PM Harper Monday in Sydney, Australia where he was wrapping up the APEC summit, quotes a CTV report.
According to the Elections Canada decision, a woman that provides two forms of government issued identification can be allowed to vote without showing her face.
As well, should she only possess one form of government ID, she can be vouched for by another individual from the same polling division, provided that this person possess acceptable identification and proof of address. Both individuals will also be asked to make their statement under oath.
This decision has raised concerns from the government and two of Canada’s main opposition parties who believe that political correctness is taking over common sense, in this issue.
"It just doesn't make sense," said federal Conservative Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon in a statement, quoted in a Reuters report.
"Common sense is being trumped by political correctness. It's the kind of thing that results in ordinary people just shaking their heads," he added.
"We disagree with Elections Canada decision and we ask them to revisit their decision," said liberal opposition leader Stephane Dion, quotes the Toronto Star. "At the end of the day, you must be able to identify yourself when you vote."
Muslim groups have also expressed opposition with Elections Canada’s decision, requesting that the agency reconsider its stance.
In a letter to Marc Mayrand Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) president Farzana Hassan said in a statement: "Unless the intention of Elections Canada is to paint Canada's Muslim community in a negative light, we demand that this silly provision allowing masked women to vote, be rescinded immediately. The sanctioning of the burqa and niqaab as Islamic attire is a rude joke, and insult to Muslim Canadians."
Although the MCC encourages reasonable faith accommodations, it also believes that allowing voters to conceal their identity is a compromise of the democratic process.
The Globe and Mail quotes Mohamed Elmasry, head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, as saying that Muslim groups were not consulted about the rule change.
He adds that this issue is of no real importance to Islamic groups and that the decision may cause more harm then good. “The way it is being handled will raise the level of Islamaphobia in Canada," Elmasry told the Globe.
More about Veiled voting, Elections canada, Religious